The brutal sun finally started setting as I headed up the Grapevine. Since my plan was to go for broke, I had opened the taps. According to the speedometer, I was pushing 75 mph. It had only been 50 miles since Bakersfield, but with the gas leak and increased RPM I decided I needed to refuel one more time before making the big downhill home to Los Angeles. This of course meant engaging in my own personal stupidest act of 2008: adding gas with the engine still running. I found a nice, empty looking station near Gorman. Long story short, I’m still here. And the drive into LA turned out to be cathartic.
Posts By: Jonny Lieberman
I know I pick on the kids a lot in this column, but they’re kids– they don’t even like themselves. Still, we were all young once. Back when that description applied to me, I was the proud borrower (and then owner) of a 1985 Pontiac Parisienne Safari station wagon. Turns out the world’s greatest Knight Rider live blogger, Alex Nunez, owned a 1987 Pontiac Safari. Just two days after he got his license, Herr Nunez got his sideways– with his mother in the passenger seat. He reports that he didn’t hit anything, and you know Alex was looking for the limits. Me, on the other hand, I managed to pull off a near complete 720, on the freeway in the rain. My even dumber friend decided he needed the heat on full blast. Anyone who remembers GM cars from the late 70s/early 80s knows that even if the EPA had choked the engines to (near) death, the HVAC systems were still (and kinda are still) the envy of the world. Meaning that full heat was not acceptable. And we fought. And we started getting speed wobbles. And around we went. And then we went off the road into the mud and spun again. After realizing that both us and the car were in fact fine, I chased him in circles around Dad’s brown Pontiac trying to catch and beat him. You?
My Czech buddy “Bob” asked me to go on up somewhere north of Fresno and grab a 1969 Chrysler 300 Convertible for him. Low pay and the distinct possibility of bloody knuckles? Yes! Yes despite the fact I really dislike the whole middle man thing. In fact, just like the 1981 Corvette, the seller of this Chrysler “needed” the money in cash because he’d heard about internet scams involving the Czech Republic. Never mind the fact that I– a good patriotic American– would be handing him a cashier’s check from BofA. Nope, must be dead presidents, and in the flesh so to speak. So, with forty $100 bills burning my pocket, I hopped a plane up to Oakland where Jalopnik’s Murilee Martin picked me up.
I’ve been following the “coverage” of President Obama’s fancy new limousine for some time now. We’ve known what it will look like for a long time, but that’s about. No, really. Anyhow, seeing the car that the Secret Service has reportedly nicknamed, “The Beast” roll down Pennsylvania Ave, dwarfing the Chevy Tahoe to its left, I couldn’t help but be awed. What a vehicle. And really, what a Cadillac. Say what you want about the Art & Science design motif, but the snouts currently hanging off the front of both the CTS and Escalade are handsome. Not only that, but the Beast’s stance is correct. Imposing, solid, American. The proportions look like a Cadillac should (though the actual size is borderline absurd). Farago has been arguing since 2002 that Cadillac needs to forget about lapping the Nurburgring and get back to building big ass cars that are desirable for their big assedness. Oh, but what about the Great Depression 2.0 and herky-jerky gas prices and the environment? All valid points. But, as a brand, shouldn’t Cadillac be building, well, Cadillacs?
While perusing the comments on the capsule SRT8 review, our own Karesh’s stood out, Specifically this part, “During media days at NAIAS I told every manufacturer who cared to listen (and a few who did not) that the largest unfilled hole in the market is a 3,000-pound RWD compact sedan with a base price in the mid-twenties.”There’s been talk for a while now about the joint Subaru-Toyota RWD Coupe (basically an AE86 replacement) that would sell for around $21,000 and have the drift kids pooping their pants with excitement. Sadly for them (and Hanes), it’s looking more and more like Toyota will be shelving that particular cheapie coupe until at least 2012, if not scrapping it altogether. So that particular hole in the market remains. Especially as the BMW 1-series is a joke in base trim and the twin-turbo edition is over $40,000. So yeah, I agree with Michael that right now a cheap, rear-driver coupe is the market’s gaping hole. You?
The hand held radio crackled, “Pace car, flag’s on the white RX-7. Get in front of him.” I was at the first ever 24 Hours of LeMons race to be held in Kershaw, South Carolina. I was behind the wheel of a Vitamin C Dodge Challenger SRT8 with a 6.1-liter Hemi good for 425 hp. We were using it to pace the race. My job was to get in front of a 1981 Mazda RX-7 running under yellow. No problem. 370 cubic inches of American muscle against a wretched 26-year-old rotary? I was about to be the Godzilla to his Japan. Hell, I’d even light it up a bit– give the crowd something to cheer about. Yeah right. I could barely get in front of the Mazda, let alone woo the teeming masses.
Jamming along with the cruise control set at 100 mph and the instant fuel economy reading 23 mpg, you start wondering: how General Motors can be in any sort of trouble? The bright yellow Corvette Z51 is beyond calm, cool and collected at this three digit speed. The tachometer’s barely indicating 1,700 rpm. And get a load of these beautiful gauges. I’ve seen chintzier dials on Tag Heuers. You know what? Forget the instrument cluster. It’s all about the heads up display. Which not only indicates speed, but rpm, temp, pressure and… Wait a second– why does one speedometer read 100 mph and the other 99 mph? And why are there three different rattles buzzing in my right ear? And what is that smell?
In his new, headline-only posting style, RF uncorked a bottle of worms (bottle of worms?) by asking if you’d pay $55k for a fully dressed Lincoln MKT. In this case, fully dressed means 355 hp/350 torques from the EcoBoosted mill, AWD and decent mileage (22 mpg) for a six-seater. Most people said, “Ha ha ha! NO WAY!” As a natural born contrarian, I wanted to simply point out that no one batted an eye while paying $60k for a fully loaded, less roomy, less powerful, F-150-based (meaning way crappo inside) Lincoln Navigator a few short years ago. And those monsters got 14 mpg. Jolly Jack Baruth took it a step farther and points out that the Ford Flex is all kinds of awesome, and the MKT has a better interior complete with individual DVD players. Jack actually likes the MKT. I just hate group think. But, here’s my question — if the MKT isn’t worth $55k, what is? To satisfy the Talmudic scholars amongst you, I refer specifically to passenger sedans. If you had to spend $55k (no more, no less) on a new car, paying list price, options included, what would you buy?
Had a knock down, dragout IM fight with Berkowitz today. What about? Obviously something real important like the escalating insanity in Gaza or hiking the Federal gas tax, right? Wrong, wrong wrong! No, we were fighting about the Volkswagen Phaeton and if it really is, “the best car in the world.” I happen to think so. Jack Baruth certainly does. Even Mr. anti-brand betrayal himself Farago thinks the uberest VeeDub is mighty sweet. Justin? He says hell no. Calls it lardy and dull. Underpowered, too. We went back (he called me a fan of Sharper Image) and forth (I said horrible things about his genetic makeup) for a bit, until he brought out the big guns. Justin reminded me that the Citroen DS is also the best car ever made. And the Mercedes-Benz 6.9. Ooooh… how do you argue with that? You don’t. My point, I think there are several best cars ever made, it just depends on where you mentally position yourself in the 4th dimension. My question? Pick a year (or three) and talk about that point in time’s greatest car. Fun, no?
One of our economy’s biggest engines is brand loyalty: both trying to keep it and trying to break it. If you’ve seen the first episode of the most excellent Mad Men, you’ll remember the scene where Don Draper is trying to figure out why his waiter smokes X brand of cigarettes, while simultaneously musing about what makes Lucky Strikes so damn special. I mention this not only because i’m a recent convert to Mad Men but because I’ve got to reattach the rear view mirror on my fiancee’s Focus. See, I grew up in a GM household. My dad’s dad was a Buick/Cadillac man and once my father got Renaults and Datsun Zs out of his system (i.e. my sister and I were born) it was Buicks, Chevys and Pontiacs to haul us around. Until he discovered Acura. But I digress. One of the big reasons we were GM-only, was because of my mom’s Ford Falcon. I can still see my dad’s eyes rolling back in his head while he says, “three valve jobs.” Never again. At least for my Mom. Me? I’d buy a Ford, despite this POS focus. But after how I was treated by Chrysler after my father died and I had to deal with his leased Jeep (nightmare), I can easily say never again. You?
In the immortal words of Rodger Myers Jr., “You kids don’t know what you want. That’s why you’re still kids, ’cause you’re stupid.” I mention this because a couple of hours ago, Farago posted this little nugget about Generation Y and what they want when it comes to cars. According to the Deloitte survey, the three most important factors are exterior style, price and green. Which Robert categorized as, “complete horseshit.” Hmmm, not a lot of wiggle room there. But, obviously RF’s right. Horsepower is the number one thing a kid cares about, followed quickly by torque and then number of turbochargers. I think. And as commenter bleach said, “Environmentally friendly, eh? I’m guessing that survey also found Gen Y considers abstinence from sex, drugs and alcohol to be cool too.” Ha ha ha! But kids are pretty stupid (see above). So I decided to ask my 28-year-old fiancee (the age range of the survey was 17-28 year olds) what she thought. “Yup,” she totally agreed. Though for her it would be affordability, looks and environmental friendliness. What about performance I asked in a panic? Surely you must want performance? “No. The only people that care about performance are gearheads like you. I just want to go 80 mph on the freeway and get to where I’m going.” I was a bit shocked, especially because this blasphemy was happening under my roof. What about getting on the freeway quickly — surely that had to matter! “Most cars get on the freeway fine.” Safety? “No.” Um — I was fishing around — good brakes, surely. “That would fall under performance. Look, I’m a little spoiled from driving your car, but really price looks and whether or not it hurts the planet sound right.” Gulp. For the record, I’m not marrying her for her opinions on cars. Anyhow, what do you think the kids want?
I am stealing Jack’s thunder . I admit it. But, he opened up a tasty can of worms and I intend to eat the last drop. Or something. Anyhow, the dealership experience is absolutely insane. You’ve all heard of the dreaded four-square, right? Essentially, it’s four separate opportunities for the dealer to bend you over and drop trou. And they will, trust me. As (essentially) every car purchase involves a group people trying to screw you from multiple angles, these stories should be– and will be– fantastic. Mine, sadly, isn’t that great. But it goes like this… Back during the tail end of the dotcom boom, I was rich. Well, rich for a 25-year-old. Six-figure income and $425 a month in rent. Life was sweet. And I wanted an Audi S4 Avant more than anything in the world. So, I bop down to the Audi dealer. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have worn my ratty old Alice Donut T-shirt with a dead hooker on the front. But whatever. My plan: drive the Avant and put down $20k, hoping to get another $18k for my Grand Cherokee and only owe the remainder of the S4’s $45k price. The salesmen wouldn’t even look at me. After standing around feeling stupid for ten minutes, I approached one of them. No way could I test drive the car. Get serious. Now, I had just read an article about some new fangled car by Subaru called a WRX. It not only came as a wagon, but made 227 hp, AWD, and weighed 500 pounds less than the Audi so it was actually faster. Hmmm. Bopped over to the Subaru dealer. Got a test drive. AWESOME! They gave me $16k for the Jeep and I wrote a check for the rest. Done. The Audi dealer called me a few days later wondering if I was still interested. And I got to tell him all about my awesome new Subaru and the $45k he left on the table. You?
I don’t even know where the 0-60 mph metric came from. Sounds like it was something Brock Yates would’va dreamed up after the Federal double knickle went into effect. But, it’s older than that. Anyhow, I bring this up because I relied on that chestnut pretty heavily for my WRX review. Why? Well, if I had to encapsulate the 2009 WRX into a single sentence it would go like this, “Everything’s worse than the 2005-2007 WRX, except that it’s so damn fast I love it.” But you know, when Farago says 800 words, he means 800 words. But I want you to understand my point. The good thing about the WRX is how freakishly it accelerates. No one records 0-75 mph times. But, we have an endless supply of 0-60 mph data for every car ever built ever (basically). So my choice was to either compare it to other fast cars you’re (hopefully) familiar with, or dig into the old metaphor bucket (Faster than Marion Jones on fresh dope. Faster than a speed freak on a roller coaster where both the speed freak and the roller coaster are on speed.). I chose the former, and man are y’all hammering me! And I can take it. Thick skin, broad shoulders, decent bench press at one point, etc. In fact, the barbs provide fodder for my QOTD, so I thank you. And so yeah, that’s my question. Is 0-60 mph a useful metric when reviewing cars. I say yes because who the hell gets to ever run a car flat out for a quarter of a mile? On public roads? But up to 60 mph? No prob. You?
In 2005, Toyota bought around half of GM’s stake in Subaru. As ToMoCo never bought Saab, they never bothered with a Saabaru. Instead, Toyota decided to go for a return on their investment. How? By broadening the WRX’s appeal. That’s right, the WRX, Subaru’s de facto all-wheel drive, turbocharged, deformed-looking halo vehicle was going to bring home the bacon by appealing to moms. Ha ha ha. As such, the 2008 WRX was an abject failure. There’s no better proof/pudding than the fact that I spent a week with an all new 2009 WRX. Not since the 1950s has a redesign happened so fast. But big questions remain. Like just how much better is this new-for-‘09 Rex?
Yesterday we posed the question, “Which uber sedan would you buy?” And while the responses were (predictably) great, they were all over the map. And that’s OK, as I couldn’t even decide on a car in the question. Though in fairness, I think I’d have to go with the Pontiac G8 GXP. It’s got all the power and the right color collar for my druthers. But you know… a Phaeton may also be the car for me. But today we’re talking convertibles. Well, not just regular convertibles (sorry Sebring), but SUPER CONVERTIBLES! Though I’m sure one of you is going to say that his Toyota Solara is the best damn convertible ever and that’s fine. We’re just not going to listen. Are there rules? Like, would a Corvette Convertible qualify as super? Can it go 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds? Yes? Than yes, it’s super. What about a Lexus SC430? No, that’s not super. Why? Because I say so. Not sure if the droptop you have in mind qualifies? I’ll let you know. Moving on — uber-vert would I choose? Hmmm. Well, the first car that pops to mind is a DB9 Volante (that’s rich person talk for “no roof”). But… no. I said uber! Right, so that has to mean that I mean the Mercedes-McLaren SLR 722 Speedster. No top, no windscreen, 650 hp and 200+ mph top speed. That’s mega double uber, right? But then I’d be that guy. The guy that bought a McMerc SLR with no windshield for half a million dollars. So, no. Oh, I got it — and really the only correct answer. And that answer is a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spider. Yup that’s the one… as long as you don’t mention the Murcielago Convertible. Crap, this is hard. But definitely a Lambo. I think. You?